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CDC1-13. Grace When Things Are Hard {Transcript}

Ask God for Wisdom in Your Trials.

  • Jas 1:5-8

And then the third thing we need to see in James is that in the midst of your trials, ask God for wisdom. Verse five. “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” Now there’s no time in life when you need wisdom more than when you’re facing a trial. And often times a counselee will come to you almost in a state of being perplexed, overwhelmed, despondent, and so James says, I think the context here if you lack wisdom, it’s not just saying if you lack wisdom knowing how to invest your money or things of that nature. I think particularly here the wisdom relates to the context which is wisdom in the midst of your trials. Wisdom to gain the benefit from the trial, to learn in the trial, to live wisely in the midst of the trial. And many people respond to trials in a very unwise way. For example, becoming sinfully angry. So you have trouble with a spouse or a child, and rather than dealing with them in a gracious and godly way, because they’ve troubled you, they’ve disturbed you, you vent your anger, you take revenge and you play God against them. That’s a very ungodly result. Some respond to trials with grumbling and complaining and self pity. Some become overwhelmed with fear or fall into depression or despair or even unbelief. Some run away. Some cut off relationships. And perhaps the worst response is some may be tempted to become angry with God which is a very dangerous place to be. Remember Job’s wife giving him horrible counsel said curse God and die. And I can tell you for example the woman whose 20 year old single daughter was pregnant had a great temptation along these lines. I gave up everything. I quit my career. I spent all day training her. I taught her the Bible every day. How could God let this happen to me? And that’s dangerous. This dear sister needed wisdom and she needed it fast. So we ask for wisdom.

What is wisdom? Wisdom isn’t just knowing stuff. Sinclair Ferguson speaks of men who have graduated even from seminary with straight As in all their classes and yet they’re failures in ministry. They learned Greek. They learned Hebrew. But they didn’t gain wisdom. Spurgeon says that many men know a great deal and they’re the greater fools for it. There’s no fool so great as a knowing fool. Proverbs teaches us that wisdom is a skill for living grounded in the fear of God. Another defined it as the ability to see all of life from God’s perspective and to act accordingly. And this is so crucial that the person facing a trial can deal with it according to his own wisdom in his own way which is gonna lead to potentially disaster. Or he can in light of the Truth of the Word of God he can respond in faith and see God’s purposes and he can grow. And so in this trial a wise person will say to God I need wisdom and should plead with God for wisdom. Now part of it, if any of you lacks wisdom part of praying is admitting I lack wisdom. We tend to think we are wiser than we really are. That we’re stronger and more righteousness than we really are. Paul Tripp said that “your weakness does not keep you from God. It’s your delusions of strength that keep you from God.”

And so another benefit of a trial, a trial exposes your weakness and your great need for wisdom. And when he says if any of you lack wisdom let him ask of God, it’s seeking wisdom from God as something to be treasured. So often in the trial we want comfort. We want the trial to go away. We want prosperity. We want health. And in Proverbs it’s wisdom crying out in the streets offering spiritual blessings. Of course ultimately Christ is to us wisdom from God. The sad thing is is that in the world people are seeking comfort and pleasure and possessions and they don’t care about wisdom. And even we as believers can fall into that. I’ve heard Christians say, a woman who’s considering leaving her husband is saying I just wanna be happy. She’s not seeking wisdom, she’s seeking what she thinks is her own happiness. When you see the wisdom is the great gift of God and of course wisdom is in Christ in whom is all of God’s wisdom embodied. And then the promise here is that let him ask of God who gives generously and without reproach and it will be given to him. God loves to give you wisdom. And this is likewise like in Proverbs where wisdom crying in the streets pleading with the naive one to come. Wisdom with her banquet inviting the naive to come. Jesus who He’s declaring in the Sermon on the Mount ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened to you. And I think reading and studying the Sermon on the Mount helps you understand well what would you be asking for? What would you be seeking? And this isn’t about seeking a big car or a big house or a nice job or even perfect health. The context of the Sermon on the Mount is Jesus has been giving us the character in the Kingdom of God in the Beatitudes and saying that you know, it’s an issue of the heart in terms of lust being adultery and anger being murder and a religion that needs to be from the heart and how we need to be trusting God. And so I think when you get to the part about let him ask of God, seek and ye shall find, it’s not seeking earthly things it’s help me to embody the wisdom of the life of the Kingdom that Jesus describes in the Sermon on the Mount. So we’re pleading with God to work in our souls what we are unable to produce in ourselves. And he says that’s a prayer God will answer. If you pray for healing, I can’t promise you you’re gonna get well in this life. It’s appointed a man once to die and sometimes God takes His people home sooner, some later. If you want a job, if you want money, it’s okay. Pray for those needs to be met. But I don’t necessarily know what God’s will will be in your particular situation. But I can say this. That if you ask for wisdom, God will give you wisdom. If you seek this. This is one thing for which He loves to be asked and He loves to give and He will give to you abundantly more than you could ask or imagine.

And it also says how He will give generously and without reproach. The Proverb says do not eat the bread of a stingy man. So often in human relationships, for example if you have a young adult or a kid in college and they come to you they want money or they want help in some way and we can sometimes be stingy and say, or even if our small children want lots of our attention saying look I’m tired. You again? Give me a break. And we can wear out our human benefactors in life. But God never tires of giving an answer to this prayer. He doesn’t say you again? You know, why didn’t you pay attention last time? He delights to answer. He is patient. He does not look down upon you in your weakness. As a father has compassion on his children He has compassion upon you. And He gladly gives. His giving is not according to our worthiness but according to His gracious nature.

Say well how does God give us this wisdom? Well as you study the Scripture and the great book describing how to gain wisdom is the book of Proverbs. And in the book of Proverbs gaining wisdom is a lifelong process. Wisdom is taught as a skill. For example, you could say I would like to play the piano. You could pray for the ability to play the piano. But if you wanna learn how to play the piano, what else do you have to do? You have to practice the piano. It’s a skill which is gained over time. You don’t just get zapped with the to be a great piano player. In the same way, if you wanna learn to be a wise person, the way God imparts wisdom is over time as you continually pursue it and there’s this wisdom that God gives you as He makes you wise. It comes through His Word and actually that Word connected with the trials which help us to put the Word into practice. The Word gives us the knowledge and then the trials particularly all of life give us the application of that knowledge through wisdom. So is that what you want? Do you really want to be wise more than you want to be comfortable? More than you want pleasure? Now James also says “he must ask in faith without any doubting. For the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect he will receive anything from the Lord being a double-minded man unstable in all his ways.” So what does it mean to ask God in faith? Is James saying that if you have any weakness in your faith at all, God will not answer you? No, it cannot be.

In Mark 9 when the man is concerned for his son and Jesus says all things are possible to him who believes the man says I believe, help my unbelief! And Jesus hears that prayer. So God is patient and gracious to the one who has even a weak faith so long as that weak faith is placed in Him. The doubt that James condemns here is that doubt which is the double-mindedness of not really being sure you want the wisdom of God. It’s like yes, I want wisdom but I also want to be comfortable. I also want things my way. And it’s, as the Psalmist says in Psalm 119, “I hate the double-minded.” In Pilgrim’s Progress there’s a fellow called Mr. Facing Both Ways. And the double-minded person is the one who say yes, in one sense I want God to help me but I don’t really want where that wisdom might lead me. The person who wants to have everything the world offers plus find his joy in the Lord. In very concrete terms, it’s the person who is going through trials in their marriage and they say well I know I don’t have biblical grounds to divorce my spouse, but I’m really tired. I deserve to be happy. God wants me to be happy. And yet I still wanna be a Christian. That’s a double-mindedness. Or saying yeah, I know fornication is wrong. Everybody’s doing it. Again, God will forgive me. The old bad prayer oh Lord grant me purity but not yet. That’s the double-mindedness. And that is something that is condemned. It’s not just an intellectual issue of not being sure. The double-mindedness is not having faith in God that values what He gives. That trusts Him that He will give you what is best and that His ways are best. It’s a faith that submits to Him and not doubting that His ways are the best possible ways.

And James says the double-minded man will suffer the consequences of his own folly. In his instability, and this is a picture often used in Scripture here, it’s like a man who is driven and tossed by the wind like the surf of the sea. That’s a vivid picture for me. When I was living in Saudi Arabia over 25 years ago I had a friend, a German friend who got a new catamaran. And he thought it’d be fun to take his new catamaran on to the Red Sea. So we start heading out in this catamaran where you’re basically lying on canvas with almost nothing to hold on to. Big sail. He’s all excited about his new boat. And suddenly a storm comes up and it’s probably one of three storms I saw in six years in Saudi Arabia. And the wind starts blowing. And the rain starts going. And the storm is pushing us out into the Red Sea away from the coast, can’t even see the coast. My friend, we’re being driven by the wind. And I’m thinking we’re gonna be seeing Sudan in a few days because he can’t turn the thing around. We were under the tow. Thankfully I’m here because finally we got it turned around. But it was terrifying. Well some people their lives, they’re blown by their circumstances. One day they’re up, next day they’re down. Everything is tied to how their life is going according to their own desires rather than finding their stability in God and their relationship with Him and His Word. Even stability in trials. That they trust God is working their maturity in their trials and that He is doing good and that they’re receiving from Him what they need. And those who have the hope in God instead of being unstable like in Psalm 1 the man who delights in the law of God is like the tree planted by water ’cause he’s trusting in the Lord. He is stable and secure.

Like in Jeremiah 17, the same picture being given. That even in the time of drought, his leaf is green of his tree that in the midst of trials he can endure because his happiness isn’t based upon the circumstances of this life. Being planted by the water. God is the one who is stable and He gives us His stability. So, we’ve seen first of all you will have trials. You don’t have to go looking for them. They’ll find you. You’re going to have trials in your life. Our counselees should not be surprised at trials. Most people come see us ’cause they have trials and we need to show them that God, second, uses your trials to mature you. God predestined us to be conformed to the image of Christ and one means by which He does that in this life is through these trials to make us perfect and complete. To make up for the deficiencies in our lives spiritually. To make us grow. And we should be thankful for our trials. We should rejoice in them for that reason. But then as we have these trials, we should ask God for wisdom and admit we lack the wisdom we need and then to turn in faith to God pleading for Him not just to make us comfortable, not just to give us what we want to have an easier life, but to give us a wisdom, His wisdom in our lives, especially in the trial to grow in the midst of that trial.